Even the most powerful man in the world is not above a pie in the face

July 27, 2011 3:44 am Published by Leave your thoughts

There is a constant tension in activist circles between the desire to
do “spectacular” actions (those which make good press or good art) and
the desire to take direct action. Equally, there is a lot of confusion
about what these terms really mean – the assumption is often that any
action which breaks the law or confronts authority is “direct action”,
whilst anything that doesn’t, no matter its objective effects, is
purely symbolic. The truth is that most really good political actions
combine both elements – they materially affect lives whilst also
shining a spotlight with their spectacle and lighting a beacon for
other activists. For better or worse, this was what I was trying to
achieve with my rude interruption of the select committee hearings.

Within the last week, the weirdest one I’ve ever lived through, I’ve
questioned again and again my motives for flinging foam at Murdoch.
Undoubtedly I was trying to humiliate him and, in doing so, provide
some catharsis for the millions of people who’ve been depressed,
incensed or deceived by his publications on a daily basis. Depending
on who you talk to, this effort has either been a resounding success
or a dismal own goal.

What I had not been counting on before I did what I did was how much
misplaced faith the people had invested in the select committee. I’ve
been told, via various quarters, that this was our “best chance” to
hold the Murdochs to account, and that I ruined our only hope of
justice. How that process would actually play out has yet to be
explained. No criminal charge for misleading a Select Committee has
been brought for well over a hundred years, and it is highly doubtful
one will be brought this time despite the laudable attempts of Tom
Watson et al. Robert Maxwell sat before a very similar process in 1992
and refused entirely to answer questions. He faced no charges as a
result. The Murdochs arguably followed the same strategy but used the
fig leaf of befuddlement to hide their shame. The Select Committee was
a mock trial, whether or not the public realised it, a parody of
justice, a circus into which I felt no embarrassment in entering as a

It’s redundant, particularly in a publication such as this, to list
Murdoch’s many crimes. So I will instead focus on how he defended
himself. It has taken me a few days to realise how in this, as in
everything he lays his fingers on, the media picture was manipulated.
First of all, the live feed recording the incident was switched off,
the video tapes vanished into some subterranean vault beneath
parliament or, perhaps, destroyed. The only footage which survived was
some grainy film shot from the back of the room and that of the
aftermath – none of which, of course, showed Murdoch’s pie covered

The narrative quickly switched to Wendi Deng, Rupert Murdoch’s wife. I don’t begrudge her attempts to defend her husband, which added yet another surreal twist to proceedings, but the (occasionally racist) portrayal of her as an athletic superheroine feels quite far removed from reality. She nicked the bridge of my nose with her nail before pushing another member of the public to the floor and falling over, a sequence of events clear to anyone watching the videos but seemingly wiped from all other accounts.

Perhaps my big mistake was attempting to highjack the spectacle of a
man who deals in little else. From my jail cell I was unable to
comment or spin, while the entire News International machine was
working at full throttle. The reactions I have had from some quarters
make it clear that Murdoch has succeeded in convincing at least some
minds that what happened was in his best interests.

Perhaps the lesson learned is that, if you wish to strive in the
sphere of spectacle, you must have absolute control of your message.
Yet, still, in spite of this, I know what I did was not a total
failure – I have received messages of support, congratulations and joy
from just across the road and right around the globe. And perhaps that
is the point of an action like this – to comfort the afflicted and
afflict the comfortable and, maybe, to show that even the most
powerful man in the world is not above a pie in the face.

Jonathan May Bowles


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This post was written by Jonathan May Bowles

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